A host of progressive organizations use their ostensible Jewishness as cover or sanction for their campaigns against Israel. J Street, which calls itself “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace,” is perhaps the best known among them. There’s no better example of how this works than J Street’s recent launch of a program to compete with Birthright Israel, the 20-year-old organization that’s provided free trips to Israel for more than 600,000 young Jews around the world.
According to J Street, “the omission and erasure of Palestinian perspectives and narratives on these [Birthright] trips creates a political environment that allows home demolitions, settlement expansion, and other destructive policies of occupation to continue unchallenged.” Instead, the group says, “organized educational trips for young American Jews must present a robust, nuanced and honest view of the current realities on the ground in Israel and the Palestinian Territory.”
The first such J Street trip, labeled the “Let Our People Know” tour, just concluded. Here, according to a miserable piece by the New York Times’s David Halbfinger, is the “nuanced” and “honest” take that was offered to the 28 American college students involved:
In the West Bank settlement of Har Gilo, they received a harsh history lesson from a veteran opponent of the occupation. Then they toured an impoverished, water-starved Palestinian village that Israeli settlers want to demolish, and visited the city of Hebron, where repeated outbreaks of violence have turned an entire Palestinian business district into a ghost town.
Not a word, either from the “opponent of occupation” or from Halbfinger on the murderous Palestinian anti-Semitic violence that necessitates Israel’s policing of such places in to begin with. Similarly, no mention of the kleptocratic Palestinian leadership that’s consigned generations of Palestinians to certain ruin. Finally, no mention of the fact that the Palestinians have, again and again—and again—refused to make peace with Israel when it was offered.
Here’s some more nuance, J Street style:
The ride to Har Gilo, just south of Jerusalem, took the bus through an Israeli checkpoint. Hagit Ofran, a leader of Peace Now, addressed the group over a microphone and described how soldiers decided which motorists to stop: “To look suspicious,” she said, “you need to look Arab.”
You know what might go a long way toward curbing suspicions? Putting an end to attacks on Jews, like the one that happened last November—in Har Gilo—when a terrorist stabbed Aharon Heller in his body and face. Again, no mention by Halbfinger of that or similar attacks.
On and on it goes, the students were treated to tales of Israel’s razing homes, harassing Palestinians, and restricting their freedom of movement. All of it seemingly without the context of the Palestinians’ unending war on Jews.
Finally, Halbfinger relays how students on the trip were turned off by Israel and Zionism: “By dinnertime, two participants said they were reconsidering their belief in a Jewish state.” He quotes one: “I came in here a very ardent Zionist . . . You never know when a Holocaust might happen again. Yet, coming here, I’m starting to doubt whether a two-state solution is possible—and whether Zionism is even worth pursuing anymore.”
This is, of course, the goal of the entire undertaking. It’s not about painting a nuanced picture of the conflict or moving toward peace. It’s about Jews showing other Jews what a terrible and misguided place Israel has become. Increasingly, that’s J Street’s mission. Despite its denials, the group has supported the boycotting of Israel on college campuses and targeted pro-Israel activists. Now, it’s packaging the supposed evils of the Jewish state for students to see up close.
Birthright, for the record, doesn’t ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It just operates with an understanding that Israel is more than its efforts to combat terrorism. And those efforts are overwhelmingly noble.
The good news is that J Street has taken only 28 kids on a single trip. Put that against Birthright’s estimated 650,000. It will take a lot of David Halbfingers to make up the difference.